Officials with the National Emergency Committee in Mexico now say at least 60 people perished in an historic earthquake — the strongest to hit the nation in nearly one-hundred years, at magnitude 8.1 (M8.1) on the Richter scale — which triggered tsunami warnings up and down the coast, sent countless buildings toppling, and trapping an as-yet unknown number in the rubble, amid continued aftershock quakes.
So catastrophic the primary tremor, it was felt some 460 miles from the epicenter, in Mexico City — and the U.S. Geological Survey ‘recorded at least 20 aftershocks of M4.0 or greater’ within an ensuing span of five hours.
Notably, the Mexican Seismological Agency concluded the monster earthquake measured a whopping M8.4 — exceeding the USGS’ revised measure of 8.1 from 8.0 by literal orders of magnitude in impact, damage, and severity — if indeed strictly a technicality, given the flattened urban areas and arduous recovery ahead. This, while coping with the continued precarious geological circumstances.
According to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto — who warned aftershocks could be as severe as M7.2 in the next 24 hours — the deadly, historic quake “was stronger than the 1985 tremor that killed more than 5,000 people in Mexico’s capital,” reports NBC News.
“Pena Nieto said in a series of tweets on Friday that more than 200 people had been injured and more than 260 aftershocks had hit the country since the initial quake, the most powerful of which was measured at magnitude 6.1,” ABC News adds, in an evening update.
Gov. Alejandro Murat of the coastal state of Oaxaca, declared at least 45 fatalities, while reports from officials in the states of Chiapas and Tabasco also added significant numbers of dead to the totals — including three children, according to NBC, which also notes,
“One child in Tabasco was killed by a collapsing wall, the state’s Gov. Arturo Nunez said. Also, a baby at a hospital died when the building lost power […]
“In the immediate aftermath of the quake, more than homes and businesses lost power, Peña Nieto said. Within hours, electricity had been restored to 800,000 of them.
“In Chiapas, the state closest to the offshore epicenter, there were reports some buildings had been badly damaged. Its governor, Manuel Velasco Coello, said on Facebook that around 1,000 army troops were helping with the rescue and recovery effort.”
Urban areas in the predicted tsunami impact zone were evacuated, Coello added, as the president announced the closure of classes in several states until inspections assessing structural integrity could be performed.
Thus far, the tallest tsunami waves recorded came ashore at Salina Cruz, and measured just 3.3 feet, while additional small impact waves of 2.3 feet visited Huatulco, a resort town, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and NBC — though government officials cautioned 10-foot waves may still be a possibility, even in aftershock tremors.
Given Mexico’s tenuous position along the storied Pacific Ring of Fire — the planet’s most active seismological and volcanic area skirting the edges of tectonic plates, and consequent mother of calamitous disasters — Thursday evening’s heart-sinking temblor is one of a list of decisive earth-moving events laying waste to tightly-populated urban areas.
Slate points out,
“Estimates of the casualties caused by the 1985 quake range from 2,000 to 40,000—a disparity that tells you something about how well the response was organized. More than 3,000 buildings in Mexico City were severely damaged, and towns outside the capital were devastated by landslides and tsunamis. The federal government was slow to provide emergency services, leaving civilian volunteers to pick up much of the slack. Then President Miguel de la Madrid ordered a media blackout, downplayed the death toll, and was accused of prioritizing aid for areas where his political support was stronger. The public backlash to the 1985 quake is often cited as a factor that led to the end of one-party rule in Mexico, though Madrid’s PRI would continue to rule until 2000.”
However, “On a more practical level, Mexico City rebuilt extensively and got smarter about earthquake preparedness. The city is a geological nightmare: It’s build on top of an old lake bed filled by the Aztecs and later the Spanish, and the loose soil can amplify earthquakes long after they’ve dissipated. But the city took steps to manage the risk, updating its building codes and more tightly regulating them. The country’s engineering schools focused on earthquake engineering; partnerships were formed with the U.S. and Japan to study the topic. Early warning systems were developed, and evacuation drills became routine for schools and offices.”
All the preparation and innovation in the field of earthquake safety cannot possibly guarantee safety when put to the test with a quake breaking decades upon decades of equally jaw-dropping, record-stomping others — but safety measures like those described may have indeed prevented human devastation as grievous as that in 1985.
In the meantime, the U.S. neighbor to the south also contends with a tempest, as “the center of Hurricane Katia is expected to make landfall in Mexico late Friday or early Saturday. The storm is currently about 120 miles southeast of Tampico and about 125 miles north of Veracruz. It has maximum sustained winds of about 105 mph, making it a Category 2 hurricane. Forecasters say it could strengthen before landfall but has little time to do so,” reports the Times-Picayune.
(Featured image: Earthquake, U.S. Geological Survey)